Louis John Steele, 'Figures Looking Across an Estuary', circa 1899, Print from art collection
Louis Steele’s work was unique due to the fact that he applied his Italian-trained art skills onto the colonial art scene. This added a dose of bohemianism and richness to his oil paintings, especially ‘Figures looking across an Estuary’. This artwork is rich in detail, with a highly charged palette used to emphasize the turquoise sky & muddy land that fills the frame.
Steele’s use of free brushstrokes and sketchily defined figures convey a sense of immediacy. The Maori figures are visually dwarfed by the natural elements of land and sky with no sign of nearby settlement. This could possibly be a commentary of pre-colonial Maori searching for new lands. The lack on context is very impressionistic, with Steele seemingly taking a more snap-shot approach towards this painting.
The shimmering palette is another example of Steele’s impressionistic infusion. The colour presents an ambiguous light, neither clearly dawn nor dusk. This stylized, hauntingly beautiful portrayal of Maori culture was a contrast to the staged, grandiose paintings that were being created during the same era.
Steele’s small, informally painted views offered intimate studies of everyday Maori life in the late 1800s. His soft, humble approach depicted their lifestyle in a naturalistic, gentle manner. The overall painting is a beautiful portrayal of early New Zealand & became a major influence for future artists around the country.
Please note that the turnaround time for Museum Collection Prints/Mātātuhi mai i kohinga o Te Papa is 5 to 10 business days